Everything Happens for a Reason
by Kavita Daswani
Pair a Madras curry with champagne, and you have Kavita Daswani's Everything Happens for a Reason, a fusion of effervescence and spice that makes a delightful read. Daswani's second novel is as light as fizz, yet it shows real charm, contrasting two cultures, and illustrating the difficulties that come with mixing New Delhi, Los Angeles - and arranged marriage.
When Priya arrives in California on the arm of her new husband, she knows exactly what to expect. As an obedient Hindi wife, she'll cook, clean and defer to her in-laws on everything. And so, when her new mother-in-law pokes her in the stomach with a wooden spoon and insists she get a job, Priya swallows her surprise and complies.
Priya finds work as a receptionist at the Hollywood Insider, a glossy magazine devoted to celebrity gossip. At first, her only challenge is balancing work with chores. After all, her demanding in-laws still require her to scrub, dust, chop and fry at home.
Soon, however, Priya realises her new job requires a more American outlook - and wardrobe. She sheds her traditional garb, and wipes the red line of sindoor powder from her scalp, secretly trading saris for capri trousers to and from work.
Things become even more complicated when, after an improbable turn of events, Priya's calm and poise attract the attention of the magazine's top brass, who put her on as a reporter. The only problem: she has to hide her new career from her family, who view journalism as akin to prostitution, scoffing 'Reporter-beporter hah!' But Priya has always dreamed of doing what they call 'nonsense work', and so the once obedient bride merely offers a prayer to Ganesh, and begins a double life.
Daswani switches deftly between the two worlds, lightly tracing Priya's meteoric success, while simultaneously revealing the slow disintegration at home. Glimpses of Priya's office life seem more implausible - with depictions of an impossibly gracious and unprejudiced Hollywood - and stories about Priya's former life in Delhi do little to explain her extraordinary naivete.
Still, lovely details about Indian customs and weddings, and humorous descriptions of Priya's initial culture shock and new suburban lifestyle give the novel real warmth. In fact, Daswani is at her best when she juxtaposes her Indian characters with American settings - 'I have a belching problem, can you suggest something?' asks Priya's father-in-law at the famous Spago - gracefully poking fun without seeming mean-spirited.
Through it all, the appealing Priya remains unflappable, accepting fate with her grandmother's words of wisdom: 'Everything happens for a reason.' But as her confidence grows, she begins to resent her life at close quarters with controlling in-laws, in an arranged marriage that has yet to blossom with affection or trust. This is standard fare. However, the reader can't help but cheer her along. Daswani manoeuvres the plot with a steady hand, employing an engaging voice and fast pace, while her Indian characters add richness.
In the end, Daswani skilfully ties up all loose ends. If it happens a bit too quickly, who's quibbling? Fans of chick-lit are sure to delight in Priya's adventures and relish her ultimate happiness.
Vibrant and uplifting, Everything Happens for a Reason is a perfect poolside read. Add a glass of bubbly and a side of poppadom, and expect a Hollywood - or make that Bollywood - ending.